Arizona Health Insurance Registration Is Off To A Slow Start

Despite a swift-approaching Dec. 15 deadline for open enrollment on individual health insurance plans, Arizonans have slow to act and register.

Experts are unsure of the reasoning for the 20 percent drop through the first four weeks of the annual open enrollment period for Affordable Care Act plans. A couple believed factors are major cuts in outreach efforts and the removal of a tax penalty for those that fail to purchase insurance. With the growing economy, there is believed to be an increase in the amount of people that receive insurance through their employer. 

“Those are all legit questions, unfortunately there’s no answer, it’s just total speculation as to why,” said Allen Gjersvig, who oversees enrollment outreach for the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers.

Last year, there was a spike in enrollment prior to the deadline and those that choose to automatically re-enroll will not be counted in the statistics until the closing of open enrollment.

Since Nov. 1, approximately 41,000 Arizonans have selected a plan on healthcare.gov, while nearly 52,000 had done so by that time last year.

With those numbers, over 100,000 people with active plans have yet to sign up for coverage that goes into effect on Jan. 1. On a national scale, enrollment is down 13 percent compared to last year at the same time.

As of June 30, 10.2 million Americans had active marketplace plans and 145,000 of those were Arizonans. A large majority of covered Arizonans either receive it through their employer or qualify for Medicaid through the state.

“For all intents and purposes, rates remain stable compared to last year and last year the rates were stable as well,” Gjersvig said. “So essentially we’ve had now going on three years of relative stability.”

The only insurer within the 13 smaller Arizona counties is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona, with Ambetter having been the only to offer plans in Maricopa and Pima counties. In 2019, Cigna, Oscar and Bright Health will join Ambetter in Maricopa. Ambetter, Blue Cross and Bright Health will also offer plans in Pima.

With the increase in competition, there will be a 21 percent drop in premiums for average mid-coverage plans in Maricopa next year. Other counties also saw either a drop or a minor increase.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the 4 million people covered in the U.S. could drop their plans within the next year due to the removed tax penalty and other changes that will be made by the Trump administration. 

In 2016, national advertising was nearly $100 million and over the last two years has been cut to just $10 million. There has also been a drop in nonprofit grants for Arizona navigators, from $1.1 million to $300,000 this year. 

The adjustments in the investments being from higher levels influence consumers because all of the complexities involved with purchasing insurance.

“People need help with the nuances of the plans that they’re choosing,” Derksen said. “It’s nice to see Arizona having more choices and, certainly in those counties where there’s more choices, we’ve seen the prices for the most part go down by anywhere from eight to 20 percent.”

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